Tuesday 27 October 2020

A message to all younger women

I was very confused and lost when I was in my late teens and early twenties. 
And late twenties. 
And very early thirties. 
I'd naively believed that I would magically become grown-up overnight as soon as I turned a certain age. 
At first, I blamed the lack of growing up on the age. If 18 wasn't it, then surely 19 was. 
Or 21. 
Maybe 25?
Surely, 30???

My 30th birthday was the worst birthday of all. Even now, 10 years later, I have never had a birthday that was more heavily burdened with expectations and disappointments than my 30th. 
I was desperately awaiting the moment when I would finally feel grown up and in control of things.
I had been waiting for this moment for at least 15 years, and I could not believe that it hadn't happened yet. 
I got married! Became a mom to 4 stepdaughters! Emigrated to a new country, and became a citizen of that country! I went to school, learnt a new profession, threw parties, made friends, faced a hundred big and small challenges. 
And yet, I always felt small. When I threw a party for 30 people, I felt smaller and less experienced than the 20 or 30-years-older wives of Richard's friends who had hosted parties when I was still in my diapers.

When I picked up the girls from school, I hid from the other moms, afraid they'd see through the ruse of me pretending to be a grown-up, or, even more outrageous, a parent - I knew nothing!  

When I went back to school at age 28, I felt too old - but at the same time, still inferior to all those kids who seemed to have boundless confidence and an answer to everything. 

My 30th birthday was not a good one - but it went rapidly uphill from there. 

Even though I still didn't feel even remotely grown-up, I started to gain confidence in a few important areas: 

I trusted my marriage. It needs to be pointed out here that we did not have the relationship we have now when we got married. All we knew is that we loved each other desperately, and that we didn't want to live without each other; and that was it. It may seem romantic, but that's not at all enough of a foundation for a life-long relationship. Our beginning was unconventional and hasty due to the circumstances; we did all the work of getting to and learning to live with each other after we got married. It wasn't always easy; we've had some rough patches. I only started to truly believe in us when I entered my 30s. It was all worth it.
I made up my mind about my own womb. That's such a huge decision in every woman's life, and I had hoped that I would one day wake up and simply know exactly what I wanted. Sadly, that's not how it works. It will be a difficult, heavily debated decision for every woman to make, and you will probably not feel sure of yourself for quite some time. I decided not to have any kids of my own, and I was confronted about that quite a bit. The problem is that a surprising number of people will feel entitled to voice their opinion, and a whole bunch of people who have no business to butt into your life (coworkers, clients, total strangers) will also tell you what you should do, whether you want them to or not. It's another tough stretch in your life where you will yearn to feel in control, but don't. 

I learnt to love my body. Unfortunately, due to the times we live in, freeing yourself from society's insane expectations on female bodies is now a rite of passage. You can't reasonably expect any woman to go through the perils of early womanhood and the changes her body undergoes without being severely affected by the omnipresent diet-and body-obsessed culture we live in. Overcoming that pressure is just as difficult as the one to get into a good school, settling on a career, or finding a partner worthy of you. 
I learnt to trust myself. This, without a doubt, is the hardest one of all. For so long, we trust our parents to guide us; we trust them implicitly. Then, as our world opens up, we listen to our teachers, maybe even trusting their advice more than our parents';  after all, they went to school, and maybe they know more? That's when we start to get an inkling that life isn't as easy as we were led to believe. 

It just gets more confusing from then on. There are friends, and people pretending to be friends, all telling us what we should do and who we should be. We have to take sides, make decisions of who we are, make friends and, subsequently, enemies.

And we are not ready. Nobody ever told us life would be that complicated. They told us that we would be fine as long as we worked hard and be kind to people. They told us that being a good person was enough.  
But that was a lie. 

Life is not as easy as that. 
Here are a few truths that will hopefully help you:

1. Life is really unfair sometimes. 
2. None of us know what we are doing. (Remember that one: it will never change.)
3. No matter how old you are, you'll always wait for an adultier adult to take over. 
4. You will hit the stage where you simultaneously feel too old, and too young for stuff. It's a confusing time. 
5. You will never feel like you're there yet. 
6. You will always wonder if there is more. 
7. You will doubt yourself. 
8. You will feel defeated.
9. You will, in vain, wait for wisdom to arrive. Shouldn't it be here by now?
10. You will never feel like you're grown-up yet.
If you are a person prone to uncertainty, that uncertainty won't magically disappear. 
If you've always been a worrier, you will still be a worrier even if your existential needs have been taken care of. 
You won't stop overthinking and imaging the worst, if you've always been an overthinker, imaging the worst.

But here is what you will have:
You will have the assurance that you have faced countless scary, knee-shaking situations, and survived them all. 
You will know that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought you'd be able to. 
You will have survived a great many awkward, embarrassing, formerly-thought-of-as-social-suicide-situations and realized they weren't nearly as bad as you feared they would be.  
You will have weeded out some toxic people from your life.
You care a great deal less about what people think of you. 
You care even less about what's "in" or "fashionable".
You know that not everything is as it appears to be. 
You also know that every single person has their own difficulties and hardships. 
Social media is not a torture chamber of comparison anymore, but a delightful source of cat videos, body positivity, and some social conscience (consumed in small doses as to not incite guilt).
You know that nothing is black and white. 
You know that you can start over every single day at every single minute. 
You know that it's never too late.

You know that, despite of what you thought 20 years ago, your life was never over. It's only over if you give up, and as long as you don't do that, you will survive everything. 
We all have to go through difficult times; none of us is exempt from that. But with every year we gain, we have the chance to gain some more life experience, a thicker skin, and more skills to deal with whatever challenges might come next. 

We won't ever have it all figured out; we will always fumble and curse and feel lost; we will never feel 100% competent.
But we will have the strength, patience, and resilience to deal with life's challenges. 

That's the true gift of aging: resilience. 


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